It was while employed as a parliamentary researcher that Leytonstone author Sufiya Ahmed struck upon an idea for a book.
“I’d worked for a long time in the houses of parliament for East Ham MP Stephen Timms,“ she says. “And while I was there I met some really brave women that were campaigning against forced marriages.
“So listening to the real life stories of these survivors, I was like, Oh my gosh, this is something that needs to be shared with everybody.“ Dedicating a year’s worth of mornings and evenings to writing while still juggling her job, she now has a book deal with Puffin with Secrets of the Henna Girl, a story about a UK girl tricked into entering a forced marriage in Pakistan.
Sufiya’s first foray into young adult fiction, the book is garnering considerable critical acclaim, having won the Published Writer of 2012 at the Brit Writers Awards after being nominated by publisher Puffin.
Although she lost out on winning the North East Teenage Book Award to author Teri Terry, she has just been informed that Secrets of the Henna Girl has been shortlisted for the Rotherham Children’s Book Awards.
“I am absolutely delighted,“ she says, her voice brimming with pride. “It feels like a massive achievement that Secrets of the Henna Girl is getting such a lot of recognition.
“I always loved reading, particularly Road Dahl and Enid Blyton, they inspired me to pick up a pen and start writing really.
“I’ve written stories since I was about eight or nine years old, I always had an active imagination, so it’s great that I’ve been able to put it to good use.“ Sufiya will find out in June if she’s won the Rotherham Children’s Book Awards.
In the meantime, she’s stepped away from her career in politics to focus full-time on her writing career. At present she is busy researching her next book, which will deal with acid violence.
“When people read my books I hope they take away with them the message of hope,“ she says. “My stories deal with how characters from different walks of life tackle certain issues. For those in similar situations, I want them to know there is always a way out, you’ve got to find the courage within yourself. There is always hope, life isn’t always dark.“ Secrets of the Henna Girl, published by Puffin, is available at: www.amazon.co.uk